LOVELAND — Undefeated through his first 15 matches and rated the No. 3 wrestler in his class according to On the Mat, Erie’s Ladd Bunker had to be considered one of the favorites to take the title in the 170-pound weight class entering the Northern Colorado Christmas Tournament.
But his quest to bring home a first-place medal ended almost as soon as it began, as the senior grappler dropped his opening match of the tournament, a 7-6 decision to Pueblo Centennial’s Chandler Montes.
Rather than pack it in and take off early for winter break, Bunker chose to buckle down and take on the consolation bracket. And after battling his way through nine matches in the span of two days, the Tiger earned a fifth-place spot on the podium along with the tournament’s “Pin Award” for pinning six opponents in a combined time of 17 minutes, 4 seconds.
“It was a tough match,” Bunker said of his first-round pairing. “Losing first, it really sucks because you have the most matches coming back to place. It hurt to lose that first match, but coming back makes it a lot better.”
Bunker followed the defeat by running off six straight victories, five of which were via pin. He again ran into trouble in the consolation semifinals, where he dropped an 8-4 decision to Jordan Lara of Rio Rancho (N.M.). But once again Bunker proved resilient, bouncing back to win his final match of the tournament.
The last victory, over Thompson Valley’s Lucas Chieppo, seemed particularly satisfying for the Erie wrestler. Bunker played the aggressor in that match, earning two quick points in the first 30 seconds to take the lead. He dominated the entirety of the second period as well, eventually gaining control of Chieppo’s arm and putting the TVHS wrestler on his back to get the pin in 2:47.
“Going into it I knew he was ranked right behind me, I was third and he was fourth,” Bunker said. “It was just good to shut up some of the talk, I guess. I felt good this whole tournament, and it was just exciting to finish it out like that.”
Bunker wasn’t the only member of the Erie squad to have success. Teammate Brandon Wetsch, ranked No. 4 in his class, won four straight matches at 145 pounds to open the tourney before falling to Abraham Lincoln’s Seth Rosales in a 4-3 decision. But Wetsch’s work early in the bracket meant he needed just one win to reach the consolation finals, which he got in the form of a 6-5 decision over Regis Jesuit’s Logan Ronan.
Wrestling for third-place, Wetsch may have put on an even more impressive final performance than Bunker. The senior came out strong, earning two points in the opening minute of the match. He tacked on a third point 25 seconds into the second period when he was able to escape the Raider’s grasp, and then turned around and pinned his opponent, winning the match in a total of 1:52.
“I went out there with the intent to place nothing but third,” Wetsch said. “My last match, in the semis, was not the way I want to wrestle. Once you get knocked down on the backside, you can’t go through the tournament with the same perspective you’ve got to say ‘Now it’s a new game, I’ve got to place as high as I can get.’
“Last year I didn’t place at this tournament, I went 2-2. I came here with the intention to be in the finals, but tough matches like that will happen where you lose by one point … but you’ve got to just battle back.”
Erie’s Elijah Roper also saw some success at 182, recording three wins, and Zach Starbeck went 4-2 at 160. The Tigers team finished with a total of 11 points, good 15th place in the field of 67.
Longmont also had two wrestlers survive the bracket and place on the podium in brothers Jaime and Fernando Ramos-Vega.
Wrestling at 170, Fernando won his first two matches before falling in overtime to John Jordan from Bennett. He then went on to win three more matches before losing to Castle View’s Kaleb Geiger. Thanks to Bunker’s win over Jordan in the consolation round, Fernando was given the opportunity for revenge against the grappler who handed him his first defeat of the tourney in a seventh-place match, and didn’t waste it.
The Trojan earned points early and was able to keep his distance from Jordan throughout the remainder of the match, taking a 6-3 decision and moving his record to 16-2 on the season.
“He beat me before, but my strategy was to change my position because he knew what I was going to do and it was time to change some stuff,” Fernando said. ” And once I started changing I started getting my shots, I started doing what I was looking to do to win the match.”
Jaime, wrestling at 195, pinned his first three opponents of the tournament. But he then ran into the No. 1 rated wrestler in his class, Discovery Canyon’s David Traynor, who took out Jaime in a 5-0 decision.
The heavier Ramos-Vega won two more matches in the consolation bracket, only to be rewarded with a rematch against Traynor for third-place. Though the LHS wrestler was able to score some points the second time around, he was still unable to best Traynor, dropping the match in a 12-5 decision.
“I lost to him the first time because of little mistakes,” Jaime said. “I improved it the next match, and still lost, but you know wrestling’s about overcoming the things you thought you once couldn’t do, so who knows, maybe next time I’ll be the one that wins.
“The weekend was tiring and long. A lot of good opponents. I really liked it because I got to wrestle a lot of different people with a lot of different styles. It’d good because it helped me build up my experience and technique.”
Longmont finished with 81.5 points as a team and took 24th place. Silver Creek did not have a wrestler place, but was led by Kenny Jones, who went 2-2 at 195. Heavyweight Andy Nott also recorded two victories, as did 106-pound Sawyer Novara. The Raptors finished with 25.5 points as a team.
Niwot also was unable to advance anyone to the final session, finishing with 42 team points. Tommy Stager led the way for the Cougars, going 5-2 for the tournament at 106. Heavyweight Brandon Slepicka also had a solid performance after losing to eventual runner-up Austyn Harris of Broomfield in the first round. Slepicka pinned his next three opponents prior to his loss in the fifth round of the consolation bracket.
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Old Chicago NCCT
At Budweiser Events Center
Team scores — Cherry Creek 202, Thompson Valley 199.5, Broomfield 189, Mountain Range 172, Valley 164.5, Centauri 164, Rio Rancho 157.5, Cleveland (N.M.) 153, Pueblo County 151.5, Chaparral 140.5, Windsor 140, Discovery Canyon 124, Pueblo Central 115.5 Elizabeth 113, Erie 111, Coronado 107, Regis Jesuit 107, Cheyenne Central 105.5, Lakewood 100, Lewis Palmer 95.5, Mountain View 93, Fossil Ridge 92, Greeley West 88.5, Longmont 81.5, Abraham Lincoln 81, Holy Family 79.5, Dumas 79, Adams City 76.5, Cheyennne South 74, Legacy 73, Berthoud 72.5, Brighton 72.5, Eaglecrest 72.5, Greeley Central 72.5, Bennett 70.5, Highland 68, Golden 62, Castle View 61.5, Prairie View 58, Fort Collins 57, Doherty 54.5, Stasburg 53, Laramie 51, Eaton 50, Middle Park 48, Boulder 47, Liberty 46, Platte Valley 45, Loveland 44, Northridge 42.5, Robertson 42.5, Niwot 42, Northglenn 39.5, Fairview 36, Thornton 36, Woodland Park 35.5, Jefferson 35, University 32.5, Palmer Ridge 30, Silver Creek 25.5, Columbine 23, Chatfield 22, Legend 22, Holyoke 19, Conifer 18, Denver North 15, Thomas Jefferson 10.
106 — Louie Romero, Mountain Range, tech. fall Gabriel Gray, Rio Rancho, 2:37.
113 — Ryan Deakin, Legacy, dec. Josh Villa, Windsor, 7-1.
120 — Chris Sandoval, Pueblo County, dec. Gav. Houston, Elizabeth, 7-3.
126 — Richard Montoya, Robertson, dec. Mitch Finesilver, Cherry Creek, 5-4.
132 — Hunter Willits, Pueblo County, dec. Jess Hankin, Coronado, 6-4.
138 — Bryce Meredith, Cheyenne Central, tech. fall, Zach Finesilver, Cherry Creek, 16-1.
145 — Parker Simington, Thompson Valley, maj. dec. Seth Rosales, Abraham Lincoln, 12-3.
152 — Tyler Oberg, Discovery Canyon, dec. Daniel Hammond, Cheyenne South, 3-1.
160 — Phil Downing, Broomfield, dec. Kennen Lanteri, Windsor, 7-0.
170 — Mason Harms, Cherry Creek, dec. Jackson Wright, Valley, 14-2.
182 — Zach Stodden, Broomfield, fall Kory Hudson, Bennett, 3:08.
195 — Jareb Aziz, Centauri, sv-1, Payton Tapia, Fossil Ridge, 3-1.
220 — Grant Neal, Regis Jesuit, dec. Evan Lancelot, Pueblo Central, 5-3.
285 — Jorge Rodriguez, Mountain Range, dec. Austyn Harris, Broomfield, 5-0.
Local third-place matches
145 — Brandon Wetsch, Erie, pin. Jesse Nieto, Cleveland, 1:52; David Traynor, Discovery Canyon, dec. Jaime Ramos Vega, Longmont, 12-3.
Local fifth-place matches
170 — Ladd Bunker, Erie, pin. Lucas Chieppo, Thompson Valley, 2:47.
Local seventh-place matches
170 — Fernando Ramos Vega, Longmont, dec. John Jordan, Bennett, 6-3.